A magical star shoots from the sky after Asha (voice of Ariana DeBose) expresses her yearnings in “Wish.”
Filled with more Easter Eggs than the South Lawn of the White House on a certain Monday in April, bursting with bright and lively and old-fashioned visuals and destined to put a tap in your toe and a song in your heart, Disney’s “Wish” serves as a refreshing original confection as well as a “greatest hits” celebration of the 100th anniversary of the little animation studio founded in October of 1923 by the Chicago-born brothers Walt and Roy O. Disney.
Yes, this film is unapologetically corny and unabashedly self-congratulatory, and while it pales in comparison to many of the classic animated films referenced throughout, the little ones should find it entertaining enough and the parents should be at least mildly amused as well as grateful for a zippy 95-minute running time.
If that title has you thinking/humming “When You Wish Upon a Star,” which was first heard in 1940’s “Pinocchio,” well, that’s the general idea. Featuring a blend of traditional 2D animation and computer technology and presented in the immersive 2.55:1 aspect ratio last used for “Sleeping Beauty” (1959), “Wish” is set in the beautiful and magical kingdom of Rosas on the Mediterranean.
Disney presents a film directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn and written by Jennifer Lee and Allison Moore. Running time: 95 minutes. Rated PG (for thematic elements and mild action). Opens Tuesday at local theaters.
Our classic Disney heroine — smart, plucky, beautiful, ambitious, loyal, idealistic — is the 17-year-old Asha (voiced by Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose), whose morning routine apparently includes working as a sort of tour guide. (Cue the upbeat number “Welcome to Rosas,” with Asha singing, “There’s no other place just as full of surprise, where your dreams and your reality can collide”). On the surface, Rosas seems to be a kind of Utopia, where everyone is happy and hopeful, despite a rather dubious tradition: On your 18th birthday, you literally hand over your most fervent wish to the ruler of the land, Magnifico (Chris Pine), and you forget it even exists. Every once in a great while, Magnifico will grant one of those wishes — but only if it won’t disrupt the order of things. Hmmm.
Today is a big day for Asha, as she has an interview to become personal assistant to Magnifico, who has traveled the world, accumulating magical powers. So, yes, Asha is hoping to become … a sorcerer’s apprentice! Asha’s seven peers, known collectively as “The Teens,” include, among others, Simon (Evan Peters), a big lug prone to falling asleep at any moment; Safi (Ramy Youssef), who has persistent allergies, and Gabo (Harvey Guillén), whose default mood is cynical and crabby, Hey, that’s a Sleepy and a Sneezy and a Grumpy right there, and the four other Teens complete the Seven Dwarves legacy nod.
Magnifico (voice of Chris Pine) holds on to everyone’s wishes in glass-like bubbles.
At first, Magnifico and Asha bond — they even have a nice duet together, titled “At All Costs” — and Magnifico grants Asha access to the secret tower where everyone’s wishes float in glass-like bubbles. This is when Asha begins to question the ethics of this arrangement, especially after Magnifico refuses to grant the wish of her 100-year-old grandfather, Sabino (Victor Garber).
When Asha calls out Magnifico for his authoritarian method of ruling (he maintains he owns those wishes, but they don’t really belong to him), Magnifico kicks Asha to the curb, or should we say the forest. Inspired by the dreams of her late father, Asha sings a powerful ballad called “This Wish” and makes the most powerful wish imaginable — and that’s when an actual glowing, yellow, adorable, twinkling, magical star shoots from the sky and starts sprinkling magic dust everywhere. I mean, this thing is so cute it’s like an emoji crossed with a squeezable light-up plush toy you can buy at shopdisney.com for just $34.99!
Suddenly, the trees and foliage and animals can speak (and of course sing), with Asha’s adorable pet baby goat Valentino voiced by Disney veteran Alan Tudyk. Gosh, we are checking off all kinds of Disney Animated Movie Boxes here, what with the Comedic Animal Sidekick joining the Plucky Heroine who has Wished Upon a Star and will now be going up against the Maleficent Ruler. (All set to catchy, Broadway-style, Lin-Manuel Miranda-influenced tunes by Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice.)
We know exactly where “Wish” is going from here, as Asha leads a rebellion against the increasingly power-hungry Magnifico, with Queen Amaya (Angelique Cabral) and Asha’s best friend Dahlia (Jennifer Kumiyama), the Doc doppelganger among the Teens, providing key support. Spoiler alert: Good triumphs over evil, and there’s a big ensemble number to be enjoyed along the way, with more than a few not particularly subtle messages about how everything on this planet is connected and we need to respect that and live in harmony. There’s even a lyric, I kid you not, that says, “When it comes to the universe, we’re all shareholders!” (That would be $94.15 in U.S. dollars as of this writing if you’re an actual Disney shareholder.)
The closing credits for “Wish” feature a medley of reminders of some of the most enduring legacy characters in the long and storied and undeniably globe-changing Disney culture. One can understand how some will view all of this with great cynicism, but come on: Wasn’t there a time when you wished upon a star?